By Bob Voyles
Perimeter Center is increasingly Georgia’s Fortune 1000 address of choice for many reasons, as witnessed by the construction cranes dotting the 4.2 square miles of our Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs), with more commercial, retail and residential development yet to come.
On most any given business day, 120,000 to 135,000 temporary residents come into Perimeter Center to work, and though some live nearby in Brookhaven, Dunwoody or Sandy Springs, the vast majority commute to this sub-market from elsewhere, and most do so in a single-occupancy vehicles. There are also several thousand who daily utilize our three MARTA stations — Medical Center, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs — as well as a growing number who ride Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) Xpress buses from across the metro area, but there is certainly significant potential to expand those numbers.
The remaining challenge is attracting workers who are willing to go without a car or to leave it at home to cover that last mile between MARTA or the GRTA bus stop and their offices or place of business.
Though Atlanta has a relatively mild climate, our rain, hot summers and few weeks of real winter are enough to discourage most from long walks to work, and though the PATH400 trail heading north from Buckhead and possible new pocket parks in the Perimeter Center may increase biking and alternative pedestrian transit, to really move the needle, we are going to have to deliver a solution and option which affordably covers that last mile.
The Perimeter Center is home to regional, national and international headquarters and corporations such as UPS, InterContinental Hotels Group, Cox, Mercedes-Benz USA and Arby’s, as well as the state’s largest retail center and Class A office sub-market. The bulk of those workers and business owners who choose to use alternative transit would be choice riders, as opposed to transit-dependent commuters who have no other available options.
The best options for last mile may be a combination of offerings. People-movers may best connect our three outstanding hospitals clustered around Pill Hill and the Medical Center station, as well as potentially dedicated tunnels, bridges and possibly even off-ramps with direct connection to the coming collector-distributor lane expansions on I-285 and Ga. 400.
Shuttle buses, with or without their own dedicated lane, may become the most cost-effective answer to deliver in the near and mid-term. But while buses and shuttles may reduce the number of vehicles on crowded corridors, they do not increase capacity.
DART, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, came into being in 1983, and it now operates buses, light rail, commuter rail (heavy rail) and HOV lanes across metropolitan Dallas and 12 suburban communities. With extensions completed to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 2014 and another in 2016, DART now operates 93 miles of light rail, making it the largest light rail operator in the United States.
A group of Fulton County and other local elected officials and business leaders recently traveled to Dallas to see this system in action and to better understand how public support was built to fund and construct that system.
MARTA and GRTA are already partnering with ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft, and transit-oriented developments are underway atop or adjacent to several MARTA stations across the region. The two primary mass-transit providers are also exploring ways that their Breeze card and Peach Pass payment systems might be made compatible, like the all-transit “Octopus” card in many Asian markets.
As someone who has been fortunate to be involved in the development of some of Atlanta’s most prestigious mixed-use office projects, I have long believed to achieve your goals and to lead, one has to be ready to accept a certain element of risk.
Shooting for the stars means at least looking up into the sky. There is likely not just one solution to our last-mile challenge, but for at least part of that. I do think we will need to be looking up, and not just out on our existing roadways.
Bob Voyles is chairman of the Perimeter Business Alliance and principal at Seven Oaks Company.